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Hungry Halep convinced the best is yet to come

  • Alex Sharp

Simona Halep seems to be in a "good spot" out of the spotlight at Australian Open 2022. 
The Romanian has already achieved a career anyone would dream of, topping the rankings and lifting two Grand Slam titles, to just scratch the surface of her achievements.  
Recovering from an injury-maligned 2021, Halep is accepting the journey ahead to return to the summit. But don't be mistaken; the standards she demands of herself remain. 
"I don't believe I am at the highest level, like in the past. But I feel good," said the world No.15. 

"I feel confident that the game is there, the movement is there. The mental is pretty strong."  

Following a quarterfinal at AO 2021, Halep was sidelined for a significant chunk of last season, with calf and knee injuries denying her a chance to defend the Wimbledon title or play at the US Open. The truncated campaign forced the incredibly consistent Romanian outside the top 10 for the first time 2014.  
Halep hasn't pressed the panic button, and has made sure her body has healed. She's determined to face the cauldron of elite competition with a smile. 

"I enjoy tennis more. I'm 30, so I'm old enough to properly enjoy this sport now. I just have to be more relaxed now," joked the 14th seed. 
"Last year was not easy I had to stay away three or four months. I suffered, but I came back stronger. Now I'm ready to work harder and play some good matches here." 

Halep has played freely - and well - on her way to round three

Back for a 12th consecutive Australian Open title tilt, she dropped just one set in five matches to spring into 2022 with a 23rd career title at the Melbourne 250 event.  
Free of intense scrutiny or outside expectations, Halep has replicated her early-season form this week. The 30-year-old began with a comfortable 6-4 6-3 passage past world No.102 Magdalena Frech. 

MORE: AO 2022 women's singles draw
The enjoyment factor was there, Halep scribbling on the broadcast camera afterwards "Smile please." 

The force and conviction ratcheted up several notches in the second round to dismiss Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia 6-2 6-0 on Thursday night. There was an urgency, an insistence on front-foot striking.  
"Definitely it was a great match. I think I played very good level of tennis. I was waiting all day to play this match," Halep said. 
"I felt very confident on court. Everything was great. I can say it was the best match (this year)." 

Mentally and physically recharged after so long at the top, the former world No.1 has had time in the off-season to re-evaluate her intentions and goals. 
"I always had this chasing feeling also in the past. When I was No.1 or No.2, I always was chasing tournaments, sometimes ranking. More titles, because I like to win tournaments," admitted the Romanian. 

"Chasing the ranking in a way, the top 10, feels good. It's a good motivation. It's a good challenge. I know it's not easy. 
"I have to really win few good matches to get back there. But I feel ready to do that. At least if I work hard, I think I have a chance." 

Halep has the game and pedigree to make any opponent wary

Halep compiled a captivating run to the Australian Open final back in 2018, her semifinal with Angelique Kerber becoming an instant modern Melbourne classic.  
Could Halep return to the silverware showdown? She's sneaking through the draw as a stealth threat, but the locker room will be more than aware of her capabilities.  

"I feel good physically. I have no problems. I think I'm fit. I worked hard in the off-season," insisted Halep, up against world No.98 Danka Kovinic in the last 32 on Saturday.

MORE: Day 6 schedule of play
"It's one of my dreams to get there (the final), but I know is difficult. I'm not going to think about that. I just take day by day." 
Day by day, match by match, Halep is becoming a more menacing proposition.